Act two

I've begun my second act, so to speak. I recently left the United States Army after a twenty-one-year career that took me to many countries, most notably, Iraq. I was there twice, once as a platoon leader and staff officer; and once again, three years after my first trip -- this time, as an advisor to the Iraqi Army in northern Iraq. I bumped along with an Iraq infantry battalion as they moved between Sinjar, Tal-Afar and Mosul, chasing insurgents and anyone who threatened a security we thought would soon be realized. Those two different experiences in the same country continues to shape the way I probe my past with an eye on a patriotic narrative that I'm not sure is a useful frame to think about political violence.


Origins of an idea

I became interested in how and why our culture idolizes a soldier hero after coming to know a group of traumatically wounded veterans who were beginning to reclaim their lives after war. I often watched others thank them for their service. It seemed to me this public response not only diverged from their lived experience in war, it also legitimized their injuries. In other words, since the military defends freedom in the public's imagination, veteran injuries make sense as a sacrifice for others. With this in mind, I began to think about how patriotism functions in contemporary American culture. 

Research interest

Patriotism has a certain aesthetic authority in American society, partly because it's reified in public performance, material culture, and cinematic representations of soldier heroism. We know to stand for the national anthem, respond with gratitude to soldiers, and some of us even wear star-spangled clothes at times. Yet, this patriotic display and cultural messaging distracts our attention from a more insightful inquiry into how war affects people. My research attempts to throw light on a more complex and inclusive understanding of what war means for those who lived it. 




John Bechtold




PhD, American Studies, current Fellow, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

MA, Liberal Studies, 2017, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

BS, Business Management, 2001, University of Maryland, European Division, Germany


Group exhibitions and permanent collections

re:Collect, FRANK Community Gallery, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2019

Beirut, Horse and Buggy Press, Durham, North Carolina, 2019 (solo)

Conceptual Photography, John and June Allcott Gallery, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2018

Soundings: Protest, Politics, Dissent, Power Plant Gallery, Durham, North Carolina, 2017

The Photobook in Practice, Look3 Photography Festival, Charlottesville, Virginia, 2016

The Observer’s Frame, Power Plant Gallery, Durham, North Carolina, 2015

Archive of Documentary Arts at Rubenstein Library, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina


Grants and awards

Anna Forbes Liddell Fellowship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2017

Julian Abel Graduate School Student of the Year award, Duke University, 2016

Lottie Applewhite travel grant, Duke University, 2016

Duke University Forum for Scholars, research grant to teach film photography to veterans


Publications, Lectures, Talks

Bechtold, J. "The Refugees: A Review." Carolina Quarterly,

Bechtold, J. “Six White Horses.” Confluence, Vol. XXII, No. 1 Fall 2016

Panel moderator, Unknown Soldier, Duke University Forum for Scholars and Publics, 2017

Public Reading from Dear Madison, Duke University, 2017

Regional Liberal Studies Conference, Presenter, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, Tennessee, 2017

Ideas and Conversations Series guest speaker, Duke University, 2016

Annual Graduate Liberal Studies Conference, Presenter, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, 2016   

GradX Talk, Presenter, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, 2016


Professional Experience, United States Army

Advanced Officer Leadership Course Instructor (August 2011 to July 2013)

  • Taught the twenty four week mid-level manager leader course to Army officers in a small group setting

  • Developed curriculum, evaluated student performance, and taught organizational doctrine and processes

  • Designed common core curriculum for the reserve component officer leader course

  • Introduced project based instruction into curriculum to engage students and improve critical thinking skills

  • Used internet based platforms like Blackboard to enhance student learning, knowledge application, and reflection

  • Practiced the Experiential Learning Model instructional method in a small group setting to teach complex concepts


Executive Leader (May 2009 to July 2011)

  • Served as the commander or CEO equivalent of a 70-person service oriented organization providing tactical support

  • Transformed an underperforming organization into a cohesive group recognized as the most competent by leaders

  • Managed personnel, company operations, outreach initiatives, organization finances and operating budget

  • Trained and certified employees to perform operational tasks and instituted leadership development programs

  • Developed situational training events to prepare personnel for new assignments requiring different job skills

  • Managed an annual budget of $750,000 and maintained equipment and property valued at $11.4 million


Foreign Military Advisor (January 2008 to April 2009)

  • Served as a foreign advisor to an Iraqi Army organization conducting post-conflict activities in Northern Iraq

  • Developed collaborative solutions to improve institutional processes, civil military cooperation and security

  • Helped Iraq leaders establish viable monthly budgeting priorities by eliminating unnecessary expenditures

  • Established an organic equipment maintenance capability in Iraqi Army unit to develop organization self-reliance

  • Performed contracting officer duties, procured a variety of services and supplies to sustain a team of eleven

  • Served as a pay agent, made all cash payments to service providers, disbursed more than $1 million


Special Skills

Black and white film photography and dark room printing

Digital photography and analog photography in 35mm and medium formats

Photobook design and production using Adobe Creative Suite

Sound editing and production using Hindenburg Journalist Pro